Losing excellent Mark Clattenburg must be the straw that breaks the camel's back for refereeing in the Premier League

Talk about a refereeing brain drain.

Why has English football meekly allowed its two finest officials in a generation to fly off and help other countries produce better men in the middle?

With finances surely not an issue, it’s a disgrace that in-house politics means Howard Webb (MLS) and now Mark Clattenburg (Saudi Arabia) are using their expertise to improve officiating standards outside of the UK.

It comes at a time when WE desperately need their help. If anyone requires sound advice, it’s us!

We all know it’s a tough old job, but I genuinely can’t remember a time when referees were less trusted to be competent.

I don’t believe for a second it’s just me, but most names on PGMOL chief Mike Riley’s fabled 18-man list of Select Group referees, provoke a spontaneous cringe.

Mike Dean, Andre Marriner, Jonathan Moss, Lee Mason, Mike Jones, Martin Atkinson, Stuart Attwell, the list goes on and on, and so do the high profile mistakes. It makes me want to scream.

It feels like a record number of rank-bad calls have blighted games this season, with the majority of the ‘elite’ 18, suffering miserable campaigns.

Two of the younger refs, Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor, do have potential in my view - but both have also shown signs of losing their nerve this term, shying away from decisive calls.

The departing Mark Clattenburg is by far the best referee this country has. Many will say good riddance I’m sure, but I think it’s a hammer blow to lose him.

In those pivotal games at both ends of the table you need a man you can trust, and no one comes close to instilling that faith than the 41-year-old Saudi-bound official.

It’s remarkable no one has found a way of persuading him to stay in England.

Personally, I’d love to see the refereeing set-up undergo a major shake-up. Whatever Mike Riley and his body are doing, it’s not working.

For starters English football needs substantially more professional referees. The competition for places in that highly paid Select Group is just embarrassing. In fact it’s practically non-existent. Every week we see the same faces.

How bad does a referee need to do before he gets dropped or replaced by someone better?

Usually those in the waiting room are left hanging around until somebody chooses to retire.

The PGMOL reportedly spends all week ‘coaching’ refs and going through extensive analysis of their performances on video. That’s all well and good in theory, but what’s the point if nobody is ever relegated from the closed shop.

‘Yep, I’ll do better next time,’ they must say without any fear whatsoever of being axed.

If players don’t perform well they get the bullet. Managers too. It should be the same for professional referees, even if it means they have to go back to whatever careers they walked away from to turn pro. It’s not an entitlement to stay in the Select Group.

There could be dozens of better young refs out there, and the introduction of a Select Group 2 for 2016-17 is definitely a step in the right direction (primarily for Championship duty) - but why have just 12 extra full-timers and six part-time?

If you’re an aspiring young referee with ability, the career path is distinctly unappealing. How many sane people would sacrifice everything else to target a professional role that’s available to only 30 men or women in the entire country?

The chances are so slim, especially when there’s no clearly defined route to the top. Too many potentially outstanding refs must be lost to the game.

I’m no referee-basher I promise, but it does infuriate me to see the standards going backwards.

Webb and Clattenburg are two of the best in the business. Not every top player makes a great coach, so it’s no guarantee they’d have a positive impact without a whistle in hand, but why not at least give them a try?

More efforts should have been made to find roles they want here in the UK.

Nobody’s perfect, but over the past few years I’ve always felt a match was in pretty safe hands when Clattenburg got the gig. With him gone, the best fans can hope for now is to land the least worst man in the middle. 

Something’s got to change. The ‘Super 17’ that remain just aren’t good enough.